Duncan Bureau on leadership, culture, MH370 and why Air Canada Rouge is a success #SimpliLive

People work with you. Not for you. – Duncan Bureau

If I told you that a young man who joined an airline in finance would go on to lead sales for another airline, lead an airline through a crisis and ultimately go on to become President at another? As unlikely as that may sound, it is true. In fact, that’s the story of Duncan Bureau (Twitter, LinkedIn), who is now President at Air Canada Rouge.

I first met Duncan in Singapore, not long after the MH 370 tragedy. While we were chatting over a bowl of soup, he mentioned something that stuck with me. I was talking about the grief of the passengers. Duncan highlighted that most outside the industry don’t realize that, “there were a lot of crew members who lost their friends too.” After all, Malaysia Airlines was not a very large airline and the family-like feel still existed. I realized then that I was speaking with someone who connects well with his team and has a lot of empathy.

It’s the empathy that makes him very popular at Air Canada and Rouge too. I witnessed a surprise anniversary celebration for a staff (I was the bait!) when I was there. We spoke about MH370 and how it changed him as a person.

Culture Trumps Strategy

Duncan is a leader who believes in cultivating the right culture for fostering growth – of the airline and the staff. Air Canada already had a good culture. But Air Canada Rouge, as a new airline made efforts to build a distinct culture of its own. We dived deep into the cultural aspects of leadership in our chat. In fact, Duncan’s primary belief when it comes to leadership is that culture trumps strategy.

If you only have a few minutes, you should definitely listen to this segment on leadership and culture.

Full Interview with Duncan Bureau

At the Air Canada Rouge headquarters, Duncan and I had a long chat on his career journey, how he was guided and mentored and how he leads his team. In this episode, we cover a number of topics and stories, including some he’s not discussed publicly before. Here’s a small sample:

  • Why Air Canada Rouge succeeded when previous attempts by Air Canada to start a subsidiary airline did not
  • How the Disney Institute training makes Rouge crew deliver good service
  • My own story of when a Rouge flight attendant surprised me
  • Why it’s important for people to want to come to work
  • Leaders who have played an important role in his life
  • Why culture is more important than strategy
  • Rapid fire round: His favorite city, book, sports teams and more!

Hope you enjoy our open chat below.


Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is the Founder and CEO of SimpliFlying, one of the world’s largest aviation marketing firms working with over 85 aviation clients in the last ten years. Nigam is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior executives globally, from Chile to China. Nigam’s impassioned and honest perspectives on airline marketing have found their way to over 100 leading media outlets, including the BBC, CNBC, Reuters and Bloomberg, and into leading publications such as The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. He writes a dedicated monthly column in Flight’s Airline Business, challenging the typical assumptions about airline marketing. His new book on airline marketing, SOAR, is an Amazon bestseller that’s shaking up the industry and inspiring other industries to learn from the best airlines. Born in India, raised in Singapore, he now lives with his wife and two young daughters in Toronto.
Shashank Nigam
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